Wednesday, November 2, 2016

MA Ballot Question #3

Dear friends,

I have been mulling this post over in my mind for awhile now.  It is a hard one to write I admit.  Question #3 on the Massachusetts ballot is, overall, a good thought.  One of the reasons our family raises swine and has egg laying hens is because we like teaching and knowing how our food is raised.

I will be honest, when I started doing research I was not sure where I was going to go with this post.  I respect vegetarians and animal rights activists for their desire to improve conditions for animals.  I, along with many farming friends, want this too.  After thoroughly researching cage free systems though I was shocked by the research that proved this is not the way to do it.  Upon further inquiry into the proponents behind the law, I became upset at the misleading ads and misrepresentation of farms, Massachusetts farms in particular.

These two reasons, my friends, are why I CANNOT support Question #3.

Our ladies
First, lets start with what Question #3 is proposing-

In summary, this law would prohibit calves being raised for veal, breeding sows (pigs) and hens raised for eggs (all commercial markets) from being confined 'in a cruel manner'.  It would also prohibit the sale of any whole meat product (eggs, pork cuts, veal cuts, etc) from being sold in MA that are from farms (anywhere in the US) that do not abide by these rules.

(For those needing more background on Question 3, here is further information about supporters and top funding sources from each side:  Ballotpedia Question 3. )

More background info:  The Humane Society attempted to put similar language in the 2014 Federal Farm Bill but was removed before the bill passed.  Now they are taking it state by state.  Below are the states that similar laws have been passed.  Bloomberg article here.

So back to my two reasons:

1.  The supporters of this bill are being misleading and disrespectful to Massachusetts farms and their initiative to earn trust and encourage people to buy local.

I hate to assume other people's intentions, but if the true goal is to promote better animal welfare in our food system then why spread misleading information about the ones that already do this.  According to the MA Farm Bureau Federation there are NO farms in MA that use gestation crates (the crates shown in the above picture).
The above photograph was also on the cover of the MSPCA publication I received in the mail encouraging a "Vote Yes on 3".  "Emergency in MA!" ?  Whether the emergency is the need to vote or the emergency is to stop the above 'picture' from happening in MA I am not sure.  I, personally, assumed the second and believe it is misleading to the public.

Further notes about gestation and farrowing crates:
  • Gestation crates are used to keep pregnant sows from fighting and injuring each other.
  • Some studies where 'free will' gestational crates were offered a large percentage of sows preferred using them so they didn't have to fight the dominant sows for food in the group pen.  
  • Close to giving birth the sow (typically weighing 300-400lbs) is put in a farrowing crate (pic of that here) which helps protect the piglets from her lying on and crushing them.  We have a local friend who, once he phased out of using farrowing crates, had an entire litter of piglets accidentally crushed and killed by the mother.  He believes she was startled by something else in the barn.  
  • Nine states have already banned gestation crates (AZ, CA, CO, FL, ME, OH, MI, OR and RI) along with Canada.  
  • Smithfield, the world's largest pork producer, is scheduled to be fully phased out of gestation crates in the next few years.
  • MA Question #3 WOULD allow farrowing crates to be used 5 days before birth and anytime a sow is nursing piglets.

2.  Commercial cage free systems have HIGHER mortality rates than current conventional cages systems.

"Want cage-free?"  Dear Massachusetts residents, if you want cage free eggs like the picture you see above you can easily find a farm that provides them NOW.  That is because ALL (but one) egg producing farms in Massachusetts already abide by the rules in Question #3.  There is one family farm in western MA that possibly might be affected, more on it below.  Large scale cage free farming does NOT look like what they are implying above, and you will see in the below study, are WORSE conditions on the hen than a caged system.

98% of eggs in grocery stores are imported from elsewhere.  How about investing the 2 million the Citizens For Farm Animal Protection has raised to support this campaign and use it to promote and assist the local farms; getting more of their products in grocery stores for the consumer's convenience.

Just to quickly note possible price increases on eggs, see this Cornell study. ( Boston Globe who endorses the law is saying only a small increase in price is expected.)
I want to point out that California's recent animal confinement law imposed a .80 square foot available space per bird (to which many large farms already abided by) and Massachusetts question #3 will impose larger space requirement of 1.5 square feet minimum per bird.   I did not research how many farms currently in the US meet these requirements.  The current battery cage recommendation by the United Egg Producers is only 0.5-0.6 square foot per bird.  I personally don't know how an increase equal to CAs egg prices or greater could not happen.

Quickly, here is the above mentioned local farm that, according to publications endorsing AND opposing the law, will likely be affected.  The farm did this video after being put in the spotlight.  (Note: I am not sure why they will be affected since he mentions "each of their chickens have 12"x18" of space" (or 1.5 square feet) which meets the requirements defined in Section 4, Q of the proposed law.)

He mentioned going to a cage system due to cannibalism and disease control.  So that brings me to the next point.

Is Cage Free More Humane As They are Saying?

I came across a Mother Jones article ( here ) that asked this very same question.  Since multiple large food providers, like McDonalds and Wal-Mart, are committing to only sourcing cage free options in the near future, these systems are getting more attention.  A surprise for me in the article was when the VP of Farm Animal Protection for the American Humane Society (a major supporter of the law) talked about the 'mess' of cage free (or aviary systems):

"That means that while cage-free is often portrayed as a nostalgic return to pre-mechanized farming, the newest egg facilities are not like your grandfather's bucolic little chicken farm. At nonorganic farms, where outdoor access isn't required, large egg producers are primarily building multitiered aviaries—stacked arrangements in which thousands, if not tens of thousands of birds roam throughout the barn, hopping from level to level. "There are birds by your feet, your knees, your shoulders—cities of birds," explains Shapiro."

If advocates are aware cage free is not a good system then why are they pushing for it?  The article goes on to cite a recent study that showed cage free systems have double the mortality rates.  Here is a summary:

A three year study was conducted by egg producers, academics and advocacy groups to consider the impact of three different housing systems on hen safety, the environment, food safety, worker well-being and affordability.  The three housing systems analyzed were Convention Cages, Aviary houses (or open, cage free systems) and Enriched Colony houses.  Characteristics of each in the graph below.

Summary Research Results Report - 

Conventional Cage- is meant to represent the current battery cages used
Aviary House- represents a cage free, open floor system
Enriched House- represents a large cage with more area to move than a conventional cage with enrichment elements as shown above

Study source link here, under Summary Research Results Report.  The results:
  • In regards to hen mortality:
    • In Cage Free (Aviary) systems mortality rates were significantly higher than 
      both Conventional and Enriched.
      "Hen mortality was much higher in the aviary system due to a variety of conditions, including hypocalcemia, egg yolk peritonitis, and to behavioral issues, with hens either being excessively pecked, or picked out (vent). There was less mortality in the enriched colony due to behavioral issues, and the least in the conventional system."
  • In regards to production within these three systems:
    • Enriched Cages production was the highest followed by Conventional cages, then Cage Free (Aviary).
Summary Research Results Report -
  • In regards to physiological stress:
    • Data gathered from blood work and adrenal gland analysis showed no suggestive differences in stress level from across all three systems.
  • In regards to food safety of eggs:
    • the prevalence of Salmonella spp. associated with egg shells was very low and did not differ between systems.
    • Cage free floor eggs had significantly higher levels of microorganisms than all other types of eggs sampled.
  • In regards to environmental impact:
    • Daily mean indoor ammonia concentrations, particulate matter (dust) levels and particulate matter emissions were all highest in the cage free house and lowest in conventional and enriched colony houses.
  • In regards to affordability:
    • Capital costs- The cage free system had total costs per dozen eggs that were 179% higher than the conventional cage system.
    • Operating costs- The cage free system had total operating costs per dozen eggs that were 23% higher than the conventional system.

Again, texts and graphs were pulled from , under "The Summary Research Results Report" section.  I encourage you to read the full report, if interested, to ensure I did not pick and choose sections out of context to prove a certain point.

(Note: I am not discussing Veal crates because the industry has or is phasing out of these methods by 2017)


In conclusion
, my friends, I understand why this proposed law sounds so appealing.  I also understand and agree that there is need for change in our food system.  But I hope after reading this you better understand that some standard methods are not so extreme but reasonable and necessary.  I also wish people would not demonize farmers and farming practices when they have little to no knowledge of the profession.  Large 'industrial' farms can be family farms too and they are trying to make a living within the trends and requirements put upon them by us the consumer and the government.  Yes, there are bad farms out there but there are also many good ones.  If you are so moved to not support a certain type of farming practice, show that with your wallet.

Support your local farms AND Vote No on 3. :)

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

When Your Swimming Pool Feels Left Out

About a month ago we woke up to find our swimming pool half drained.  Not the way we wanted to start the day.
Baby girl expressing my feelings of that day-

Since there are no drains in the bottom of our pool and the water levels were below all the inlets, we knew there had to be a hole in the liner somewhere.  And that is exactly what is was.  Apparently in the deep end of the pool a small rip gradually got larger and water continued to trickle through until it pushed away at the underneath structure and rocks.  Eventually it made a path and started draining all of the sudden rapidly.  (Seriously, before this the water level was consistent most of the summer).  The liner, just like a lot of things in our fixer upper property, was on its last leg so I guess these things happen with time.
Pool was seeing all the updates the house was getting, he wanted an update too. (Did mention I am secluded from adults most days, so therefore I humanize random things in close proximity to me, don't judge).

At one point during the 'day of draining' I channeled my inner Katie Ledecky and tried to dive down and patch it.  Keeping myself at the bottom of the pool long enough (I am apparently am quite buoyant) to adhere a patch that has no foundation behind to press against was not an easy task.  Once I did get it applied the patch was quickly sucked through the hole.  Awesome.

The pool drained (and pulled away from the wall once empty) in about 24 hours.  Not lovely.

It typically takes us days to drain halfway for winterizing at the end of the season.  This was a large escape route.

The new liner was installed in one day.  Some structural work had to be done in the area of where the foundation was damaged (I think some new concrete and perlite stone added).
This is me creeping on the pool company, taking his picture from inside the house.

Kids inspecting damaged corner

 We chose a tan colored liner because I thought it would match the neutral concrete pool apron better and give the water a more natural color hue (vs the aqua marine induced hue most liners give).  I did not like any of the border graphic option but that's just how it is.  The one we chose is circled at the bottom left-

We chose to pay and have the pool filled with 'town water' because we worried it would be too taxing on our well with the current drought (though filling with our well would have been free it has been a very dry year).  Plus, our well water is super cold and would have taken longer to warm to a comfortable swimming temp.  The filling part was exciting on different levels-
Tanker trunk in our driveway!

This was only 1 tanker truck's worth, did not even fill 1/2 the pool.

It took 2.5 truck loads to fill the pool.
We were quite shocked not only at how expensive this was but also to see how GREEN town water is (yes, this is straight from the public drinking water, from a nearby town).

The delivery guy said it would filter out.  And in two days it did.

We like the faux tile look.  And remember the tile color is actually tan, the water gives it this nice hue.

One day when we get around to finishing the landscaping around the pool it will look really nice.  The barn this fall is taking such funds.

So we HOPE to have another month of enjoying the pool for this season.  It is supposed to be 90's again on Thursday. :)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Sorry Ducks

Summer time is filled with lots of activity and work, that is for sure.  I think the busyness of all the to-dos help me cope with the coming of fall (less gardening, food preserving, yard work, etc).  Though apple butter season will be approaching soon, Eek!!

We recently put another homesteading tool in our belt; that tool being the experience of killing and cleaning our own ducks.  In poor meat fowl raising fashion, I lost track of how old the ducks were and we didn't know their live weight.  I suppose if the ducks were self consciousness about their weight and age like us silly humans at least they 'went out' with no complexes.

Any who, we heard from different people that cleaning ducks was a tedious task with the amount and type of feathers.  This we now understand.  From our homesteading books we read that you attempt to kill them during their second molt, which reduces some of the plucking.  We think we got them before their full second molt but had to schedule the killing instead to coordinate with summer travel plans.  After killing them we realized based on their dressed weight they should have been larger.  But I digress.
(Dressed weight typically means the weight after the animal is killed and internal organs and less desirable portions of the animal removed.  Not this-)

Moving on....

PLEASE NOTE: I refrained from showing graphic pictures for those that are sensitive to such.  The most graphic picture is Jonathan holding a headless duck, no blood is visible.  Just want to point that out but encourage everyone to look at the process.

(Up until kill day, kid stalking was probably the most stressful thing our ducks encountered)-

Fact: If you eat animals death is involved.  I think that is important to embrace for the sake of perspective and respect.  I personally feel as a Christian that we are to be good care takers of God's creation and not just say 'ignorance is bliss' in regards to animal processing.  I don't think animals are here for our careless expenditure (careless being key word).  I know I am opening up a can of worms here, maybe more on this another time.  The fact is lots of animals die daily to keep up with our country's food demands.  Just a quick Google search told me that roughly 21 million chickens are EATEN DAILY in the US alone.  Whoa nelly!  A lot of deaths.

I like knowing that our animals have one bad day in their lives; kill day.  The same can be true for large livestock operations as well, but I believe it is not always the case.  I also like that our killing is instant.  We chop the head off in one quick blow with an axe.  In large poultry operations birds are hung upside down, stunned (I think usually electrically) to remove feeling, then their throats are cut to bleed out.  This process has a reason to it and I understand that.  There are also laws (or guidelines, not clear on this yet) to ensure the process is quick and not drawn out to make it as humane as possible.  I am sharing this information for comparison and again for perspective sake.

Here is a link that I found helpful if you want to know more about poultry processing.

Onto our duck processing.

Step 1 Killing the animal.  We did this by me holding the duck in my hands (and I actually got sad and considered not killing it at this point), Jonathan laying its head on a tree stump with one hand and cutting the head off with ONE swift blow with his axe.  There was little to no struggle.  At this point the animal bleeds out.

Step 2 We dipped the duck in boiling water to help with the plucking process.  For the most part feathers came out easily and quickly (we followed water temperature and scalding time recommendations) but the pin feathers were a beast to remove.

-Plucked and wing ends removed.

Step 3  Next you need to remove all the innards.  You do this by cutting around the duck's anus using great care to not nick the digestive tract (which could release feces and get on the meat which is not ideal).  Once you cut that part free from the body then the innards can start being pulled out.  Once the duck is completely cleaned out we did another rinse inside and outside for good cleanliness practice.
No picture for this step, our hands were really dirty and we wanted to move them as quickly as possible to be chilled.

Step 4 Now the carcasses have to chill to an internal temperature of 40F.  Chillin'-

Step 5  Once chilled we vacuum sealed them and put them in the freezer.  Done.

Step 6 Cook and eat them, which is going to happen tonight.

Duck fat is a healthy fat (in my pro fat opinion) and duck meat is rich in flavor.  Some people describe it as tasting like all dark and very juicy meat.

That is all I can write for now; sorry to end so abruptly, motherhood is calling. :)

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Big News In The Hen House

We had our first babies born on our farm this past weekend!  3 little chickies.

Since we do NOT have a rooster (therefore our hens' eggs do not get fertilized) we had to get eggs from someone else that did have a rooster.  Thankfully my friend Tammi was willing to part with some of her viable eggs from her flock.

One of our Barred Rock Hens has been broody (meaning she wants to hatch and raise chicks) for awhile, so all I did was place 6 of Tammi's eggs in a nest in the coop.  Momma Rock immediately took on the job.

She sat and sat and sat, for about 20 days.  Even through a few weeks of a heat spell, she did not leave her nest for a break.

Her hard work paid off, though we can see the toll it took on her appearance.  She plucked out some of her breast feathers to keep the eggs closer to her skin and warm.  Her comb (the fleshy red piece on her head) is shriveled and has lost some color.  I am assuming this has to do with hormones and that she didn't eat and drink.

The sacrifice of a Mom.

Today they left the nest and coop for the first time, and it makes me nervous.  We have cats roaming around and so many other potential chick hazards.  So far they are peaceful.

And the kids cannot get enough of them, little man especially.

Baby girl demands to dress herself in big sister's dresses EVERY.DAY.

Lastly, if interested in a recommendation for a children's hen and egg story, we vote this one as our favorite.  (And we have read a lot).
Egg Story by Anca Hariton

It has beautiful illustrations and does an excellent job teaching about what goes on inside the egg.

For now enjoying these warm August days, a full vegetable garden and more sweet little details. :)

Friday, July 15, 2016

House Update.... Whaaaat

THIS! is the first house update of 2016.

Our last update was about 9 months ago, when we painted our kitchen (post here).  Those that have been following this blog for awhile might remember renovating our home was the main reason for starting this blogging journey.  It has morphed into more than that but I am probably the most excited still to blog about house updates.

<Spoiler alert> This is not a major renovation, we just hung a few curtains.  (Sorry if that is a let down.)  BUT, it is progress and I like journaling all progress.

New windows were installed last fall if you remember. (post here)  I have had curtain decision issues since we moved in 5 years ago. (post on that here)  Settling on simple white linen was the decision.  Why was that so hard for me I am not sure.

Anyway, in my true blogging fashion I put the before and after. :)

When we moved in-

Progress, with 2 curtains.  Yeah, I see that third window.... and yeah, we will put a curtain on it too once I can get to the store again.

Simple linen curtains from Target.

I also think I need to hang larger picture or something with a more pronounced picture frame between those windows.

Table is never usually clean.  It is a high traffic table, used daily for this girl's art obsession.

And I know white decor and young kids is not the most practical combination.... but alas I am doing it anyway.

Onto the living room.

Living room 'TV wall' when we moved in-

 Progress, with curtains-

If you are wondering, that is a real 5 point deer antler from my parent's farm.  It was found a long, long time ago so local TN hunting friends don't think about sneaking in their woods.

Speaking of TN, we were there last week and went 'picking' in the local antique stores.  We found this 'model' tobacco basket.

This is a small version of the real thing, hence 'model'.  Tobacco baskets were used to transport and display tobacco leaves at market for selling (correct me, friends, if there is more).  Though my family did not grow tobacco when I was growing up we helped friends harvest and work their tobacco crops.  Cutting tobacco is one the hardest, most physical jobs I have ever done.  I would say even tougher than loading and stacking square bales of hay.  This was a major income to most families in our area and the biggest crop in our county for many years.  Not anymore though, that is another story.

Picture of tobacco in a Greene County warehouse waiting for auction.
Source here

All for now friends. :)